International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

BSF Project - Fourth Cycle

Improving pulse biodiversity in rice fallow areas of tribal belts of Central and East Indian states to bring resilience in the farming practice, provide livelihood support and enhance nutritional level of the tribal population
Where are we working?

There are 12 million hectares (ha) of rice fallows in India, 82 percent of which lie in the Central and East Indian states, where Protein-Energy-Malnutrition is extremely widespread. Pulses used to be the preferred choice for cultivation after rice is harvested. However, in recent years, farmers have lost a considerable amount of pulse genetic diversity due to a variety of pressures. Non-traditional legumes (tribal pulses) also remain underutilized due to the absence of robust seed systems in the area. Over the past 60 years, the availability of pulses in India has declined from 60 g to 41.7 g per person per day, contributing to serious malnutrition.

What are we doing?

The project is currently undertaking the following activities:
  • enhancing the availability and on-farm conservation of resilient varieties of pulses, mainly traditional varieties, underutilized species of pulses and oilseeds for cultivation during the rice fallow season; in particular, the project has reintroduced varieties of pigeon pea, black gram, groundnut, green gram, kudrum, cowpea, ghagra, horseshoe gram, gram, little pea, red lentil and the following oilseeds: white sesame, black sesame, red sesame, Niger, mustard, linseed and sunflower;
  • diversifying local agricultural systems and enhancing farmers’ resilience through on-farm trials of pulse varieties collected from seed banks and farmers’ fields, in order to select farmers’ preferred varieties based on climate-resilient traits;
  • establishing five community seed banks;
  • building farmer capacity in conservation and sustainable use of crop biodiversity, seed quality control and multiplication of quality seed, through training and Farmer Field Schools;
  • documenting indigenous knowledge of local varieties and seed systems, as well as the knowledge produced through project activities; and
  • organizing Seed Diversity Fairs in 5 states, with the participation of around 850 tribal farmers, including 295 women farmers.

What has been achieved to date?

All the project sites are in locations where pulse and oilseed cultivation has either been abandoned, or where only a handful of scattered farmers were cultivating these crops. Seed banks have proved to be crucial in providing necessary support and training to farmers for the sustainable use of these resources and their on-farm and in-situ conservation. A critical step in this regard has been the introduction of active collaboration between farmers and scientists from agricultural universities and Krishi Vikas Kendra (knowledge and resource centres of agriculture technology). To date, the project activities have resulted in the return of in-situ cultivation (and therefore conservation) of 27 varieties of 14 crops in Jharkhand, 46 varieties of 17 crops in Bihar, 11 varieties of 7 crops in West Bengal, and 10 varieties of 4 crops of pulses and oilseeds in Chhattisgarh. At the project site in Jalpaiguri, West Bengal, communities have started cultivating pulses after more than two decades.
Farmers of the tribal-rich project area used to harvest just one crop per year during monsoon season. However, successful diversification of cropping systems has now been introduced in the targeted villages by strengthening informal seed systems through the launch of five community seed banks for pulses and oilseeds, capacity-building of farmers in conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), participatory on-farm trials and variety selection, and seed exchange via seed fairs in the tribal villages. The results have inspired farmers from outside the project area, especially in Bihar and West Bengal, to cultivate pulses and oilseeds, with good prospects of an additional source of income.
The capacity of the tribal communities has been developed at five project sites to conserve and manage seed varieties in the community seed banks and to manage these seed banks efficiently.
The strong participatory approach adopted for the conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA has strengthened collaboration between tribal farmers – especially women farmers – and scientists and field coordinators. After observing the impacts of the project, various local actors and practitioners have become increasingly aware of the usefulness and urgency of conserving and using locally available genetic biodiversity for sustainable farming, diversifying livelihood options and nutritional support. About 850 farmers, including 295 women farmers, have participated in the seed fairs. These have proved to be important in building a relationship between the project team, farming community, officials from local governing bodies (Panchayati Raj Institutions) and the agriculture department.

Who has benefited?

The direct beneficiaries of this project will be 1 250 vulnerable farmers, mostly women, from indigenous and tribal communities in Central and East Indian states. The increased area under pulse production will provide them with an additional crop and nutritional support, and will restore crop biodiversity for climate resilience. It is anticipated that the number of beneficiaries receiving seeds from seed banks will reach 250, while a further 1 000 farmers will benefit from technical capacity-building through workshops, Farmer Field Schools, knowledge exchange, information materials and visits.

Best practices and success stories

In West Bengal, most of the farmers are cultivating a single crop – monsoon paddy – and many are migrating as daily labour to other states. Based on an evolving action plan, there are 12 farmers cultivating black gram, green gram and kulthi trial plots in the monsoon season after a gap of 20 to 25 years. There are 9 farmers who have cultivated black gram using traditional knowledge, and 3 farmers have used scientific knowledge to cultivate black gram, green gram and kulthi.
The project is just beginning to explore the land and human resources needed to restore pulse cultivation after such a long time. Just 1 percent of farmers have cultivated pulses sporadically in the past 25 years at the project location. The reasons for this long gap include lack of availability of pulse seeds, loss of traditional knowledge, and lack of training and technologies, even though farmers knew that pulses were more profitable than other crops. As of April 2021, each farmer was cultivating the pulses on an average of 0.5 to 1 bigha (0.12to 0.25 ha).
Soybean and cotton are the major crops grown in the Dhar District of Madhya Pradesh during the monsoon season. Farmers are growing a single crop in the monsoon season and no crop in the winter season. Many small-scale farmers in India are worried about low incomes, exacerbated by major variations in the weather, such as very hot summers, cold winters, and excessive or inadequate rainfall. The decline in revenues from agriculture, coupled with a growing trend of suicide among farmers is discouraging smallholder producers. The situation was similar for many farmers in the tribal village of Bahadara in Dhar District, Madhya Pradesh. A few years ago, they were mostly growing Bt (genetically modified) cotton, but were dissatisfied with the result and decided to leave agriculture. Now they have turned to multicropping pulses, oilseed and millet, using organic compost on the crops. By adopting this strategy, they are able to produce more with fewer agricultural inputs.
Oil seeds, Pulses
Region: Asia
Target Countries: India
Implementing institution: PAIRVI (Public Policy Initiatives for Rights and Values in India). Link to dedicated website
Partners involved: Krishi Vigyan Kendra, state agriculture universities, NGOs
Contact details: Ajay Kumar Jha, Director, PAIRVI ([email protected]), ([email protected])

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